The theme of a sacrificial lamb which rises in victory as the Resurrected Christ was employed in early Christology, e.g. in 375 Saint Augustine wrote: “Why a lamb in his passion? Because he underwent death without being guilty of any iniquity. Why a lion in his passion? Because in being slain, he slew death. Why a lamb in his resurrection? Because his innocence is everlasting. Why a lion in his resurrection? Because everlasting also is his might.”
The 11th century Christology of Saint Anselm of Canterbury specifically disassociates Lamb of God from the Old Testament concept of an “escape goat” which is subjected to punishment for the sins of others, without knowing it or willing it. Anselm emphasized that as Lamb of God Jesus chose to suffer in Calvary as a sign of his full obedience to the will of the Father.
John Calvin presented the same Christological view of “The Lamb as the agent of God” by arguing that in his trial before Pilate and while at Herod’s Court Jesus could have argued for his innocence, but instead remained mostly quiet and submitted to Crucifixion in obedience to the Father, for he knew his role as the Lamb of God.
In modern Eastern Orthodox Christology, Sergei Bulgakov argued that the role of Jesus as the Lamb of God was “pre-eternally” determined by the Father before the creation of the world, as a sign of love by considering the scenario that it would be necessary to send The Son as an agent to redeem humanity disgraced by the fall of Adam.
In modern Roman Catholic Christology, Karl Rahner has continued to elaborate on the analogy that the blood of the Lamb of God, and the water flowing from the side of Christ on Calvary had a cleansing nature, similar to baptismal water. In this analogy, the blood of the Lamb washed away the sins of humanity in a new baptism, redeeming it from the fall of Adam.
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In Christian iconography, an Agnus Dei is a visual representation of Jesus as a lamb, since the Middle Ages usually holding a standard or banner with a cross. This normally rests on the lamb’s shoulder and is held in its right foreleg. Often the cross will have a white banner suspended from it charged with a red cross (similar to St George’s Cross), though the cross may also be rendered in different colors. Sometimes the lamb is shown lying atop a book with seven seals hanging from it. This is a reference to the imagery in the Book of Revelation 5:1-13, ff. Occasionally, the lamb may be depicted bleeding from the area of the heart (Cf. Revelation 5:6), symbolizing Jesus’ shedding of his blood to take away the sins of the world (Cf. John 1:29, 1:36).
In Early Christian art the symbol appears very early on. Several mosaics in churches include it, some showing a row of twelve sheep representing the apostles flanking the central Agnus Dei, as in Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome (526-30).
The Moravian Church uses an Agnus Dei as their seal with the surrounding inscription Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur (“Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him.”).
Although the depiction of Jesus as the Lamb of God is of ancient origin, it is not used in the liturgical iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The reason for this is that the depictions of Jesus in the Orthodox Church are anthropomorphic rather than symbolic, as a confession of the Orthodox belief in the Incarnation of the Logos. However, there is no objection to the application of the term “Lamb of God” to Jesus. In fact, the Host used in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy is referred to as the Lamb (Greek: άμνος, amnos; Slavonic: Агнецъ, agnets).